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September 18, 2007
All's Fair

While at the Kansas State Fair, I was struck by the widespread obesity. How did we get so fat as a country? I pondered this as I ate my corn dog, followed by a basket of spiral chips, onion rings, meatballs on a stick, a slice of pizza, teriyaki on a stick (skewering just about any food item with a stick seems to make it taste better, doesn't it?), an ear of roasted corn, a bite of Isaac's caramel apple, and an entire funnel cake. Could this predisposition toward fatness be in our national genes? My jeans, in any event, are noticeably tighter.

The fair was everything it promised: the smell of sweat and axle grease and fried goldeny goodness thick in the air, the music and squeals and murmur of people, bodies and machinery in motion, an entrepreneur on every corner selling something, clusters of red-necked, thick-armed farmers in seer-sucker overalls, their stout offspring, the older boys with chew in their mouths and their hats rigid and proud, wide-eyed children everywhere, faces sticky with ice cream and cotton candy, some hopping with joy, all of us mingled together and hopeful, or weary, or both.

Caleb demanded entry to every big-boy ride his height would allow, including the spinning, dizzying kind for which I have no stomach. He looked like an astronaut or a pilot whirling through the air, blissful. Eli preferred rides with some heft and force — bumper cars, the child-size roller coaster, the rollicking slide. Isaac wanted what his brothers rode, until he got his wish, on a whirligig of a ride, his screams of terror so loud that the operator stopped it early. After that it was the motorcycles that go in a slow circle, and the carousel, and the flying elephants, but only with Dad tight beside him.

We came home late, and though neither the wife nor I voiced it for a few days, we both had the lingering sense that the fair hadn't taken. We'd rushed things, and let the older boys pair off with the children of friends we met there.

The fair, we realized, is an important part of our family tradition. It surprises me, the snobbery I find toward the state fair, from native Kansans, no less. I know several executives who pride themselves on never going. Having lived in states with actual cities, I have to stop myself from reminding them that they live in Kansas.

No Kansan is too good for the state fair. In fact, nobody is too good for the state fair, period, though perhaps the state fair is too good for some people. If you find it beneath you to get elbow to elbow with people who have not enough money and too many kids, and folks who work the earth, and greasy-fingered, shiny-eyed cheerful miscreants operating the rides, then perhaps you have too high an opinion of yourself, because we are all made of the same suspect dust, it seems. And if your mistaken opinion of your social position prevents you from getting a fresh corn dog and a hot steaming plate of sugary funnel cake, then it serves you right. Go content yourself with a pseudo-cosmopolitan meal in your favorite faux Euro-bistro with the cheap furniture, and pretend you live in New York. As for me and my household, we'll take the fair.

Friday night, this sense of incompletion still lingering, the wife and I decided to make another go of it on Saturday. If you can imagine how your children might react, were you to tell them that you were instituting a two-Christmas-a-year policy, then you have some sense of the elation in our home.

Saturday's damage to my waistline: one steak sandwich, one cheesesteak, a cherry limeade, fried mozzarella sticks, another basket of spiral chips, a healthy portion of Caleb's meatballs on a stick, and part of a funnel cake, the bulk of which was hastily consumed by my hypoglycemic wife as we drove home, after which she went promptly into a sugar-induced coma.

There were more rides, only this time we stayed together, the non-riders cheering for the riders. Each boy won a stuffed animal, which is good because the two goldfish they won Monday were dead by last night (funeral service to be held this evening). At the end, we all piled onto the Ferris wheel. Eli and Isaac snuggled close to me, and Caleb sat beside his mother to protect her and the baby. It carried us into the cool evening sky, where we sat quiet and peaceful. Lights glimmered below us, softened by the haze. In the distance, gentle rain clouds sat like mountains, and made me think of the thousand hills, and wonder how heaven can be any better.

Posted by Woodlief on September 18, 2007 at 10:11 AM


The goodness of God is a never ending series of being amazed. I told my children the other day... "You know why I believe in God?", "Because He made orange juice." How Awesome!!

Thank you for sharing. We are all on the same path of Life. Life to the Full!

Posted by: Jim Ratajski at September 18, 2007 10:33 AM

Now that is how a summer should end, with sweet sticky memories.

Posted by: Lori MacKean at September 18, 2007 10:35 AM

And funnel cake ROCKS.

Posted by: MMM at September 18, 2007 10:52 AM

A steak sandwich AND a cheese steak?!?! You're my kinda guy :) I love fair food so much that sometimes I fry onions and garlic in bacon grease just to get the smell of it, even if I don't need the onions or garlic at all. That song that the rat and goose sing in the old cartoon version of Charlotte's Web actually makes me hungry. Thanks for sharing your good times with us. I hope we can get our brood to a fair this fall as well.

Posted by: Lindsey in AL at September 18, 2007 11:03 AM

The North Carolina State Fair starts up in a month (and I'm guessing you strode down the midway there several years ago) but we won't be going this year. I admire your strength and courage to herd three youngsters, though I'm afraid our 3 and 5 y.o. would test our patience by running off.

For those who have the opportunity, try to catch some of the Jr. livestock competitions, especially the pig and/or sheep events. Seeing those youngsters working hard and trying to win a ribbon is very entertaining. I would also encourage folks to visit other state fairs. They may all seem the same on the surface, but there's enough differences to make it interesting. And who can turn down the chance for another funnel cake?

Posted by: Marc V at September 18, 2007 12:01 PM

Another vivid image of a life well lived.
Love the last line and relate to it, in my own way, very much.

I've been to the Kansas State fair once or twice ;) I am a sucker for a deep-fried Snickers bar.

Posted by: Danielle at September 18, 2007 9:25 PM

Ahh... State fairs :) country fairs :) being Canadian we have rodeos and expositions that come only 'close' to the aura of a state fair. Every year I would guiltlessly make the 4 hour journey to do 'The Puyallup' - the commute is a bit longer and I haven't been to a fair in 2 years now (having located to England where one is hard pressed to even find the once daily markets of fresh produce)but believe me... planning a visit to Vancouver for 2008 will be carefully planned to coincide with fair dates ;)... hmmmm fried onions

Posted by: Meres at September 19, 2007 10:04 AM

I am glad you had fun at the fair. Twice! Neat.

How did we get so fat??? Well, we started out as a farming nation. Farming is hard work, you need a good intake to get you through the day. Problem is there are very few farmers out there any longer, but we're still eating as if we were. That and the FDA's signing off on everything that really isn't food....

but then again, I realize it was a rhetorical question.

Posted by: chronicler at September 20, 2007 8:47 PM

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